UPSC Mains – How to Prepare for Geography Optional

Geography happens to be one of the most sought subjects and during the last few years its popularity has gone higher. It is indeed a good optional subject and remains to be one of the most favorite choices of civil service aspirants. The reason for its popularity is due to the multidisciplinary characteristics and the semi-scientific nature of the subject which makes it easy for aspirants to adapt to the discipline coming from different educational backgrounds and the scoring nature of this subject. Also, its importance in general studies (both mains and prelims) cannot be overlooked.

Let’s look at a few pros and cons before we proceed to the strategy part.


  • A logical and rational subject and hence highly appreciated by science students.
  • The preparation overlaps directly with GS Paper-1 and also indirectly in many parts of GS Paper 3. So one optional subject can cover approximately 20% in prelims and more than 40% in Mains.
  • The overlapping of syllabus in prelims, mains and some aspects of Geography can be used in Essay paper and interview as well.
  • The subject is extremely relevant and can be experienced in day to day life and this makes it easier to understand. (Exceptions to rules are part and parcel of every discipline)
  • There is a huge scope for innovation in answers in the form of schematic diagrams, drawing maps, flowcharts, etc. which can fetch one more marks.
  • Sufficient availability of material makes it easier to crack this optional.


  • Being the 2nd most preferred optional, to gain an edge over others, the answers have to be exceptionally good as UPSC has been strict in awarding marks in the last few years.
  • Maps can be scoring but even one small mistake, you tend to lose marks straightaway. Hence it is important to be extremely cautious while handling map questions.
  • Geography optional syllabus for IAS is huge and requires a proper strategy to complete the entire syllabus in time. 

Geography Optional Syllabus

Geography optional indeed has a vast syllabus and it is extremely crucial to have a strategy in place to complete the syllabus topic wise. Let’s have a look at the detailed syllabus:



Physical Geography:

  1. Geomorphology:
    • Factors controlling landform development; endogenetic and exogenetic forces; Origin and evolution of the earth’s crust; Fundamentals of geomagnetism; Physical conditions of the earth’s interior; Geosynclines; Continental drift; Isostasy; Plate tectonics; Recent views on mountain building; Vulcanicity; Earthquakes and Tsunamis; Concepts of geomorphic cycles and Landscape development ; Denudation chronology; Channel morphology; Erosion surfaces; Slope development ; Applied Geomorphology : Geohydrology, economic geology and environment.
    • Applied Geomorphology: Geohydrology, economic geology and environment.
  2. Climatology:
    • Temperature and pressure belts of the world; Heat budget of the earth; Atmospheric circulation; atmospheric stability and instability. Planetary and local winds; Monsoons and jet streams; Air masses and fronto genesis, Temperate and tropical cyclones; Types and distribution of precipitation; Weather and Climate; Koppen’s, Thornthwaite’s and Trewartha’s classification of world climates; Hydrological cycle; Global climatic change and role and response of man in climatic changes, Applied climatology and Urban climate.
  3. Oceanography:
    • Bottom topography of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans; Temperature and salinity of the oceans; Heat and salt budgets, Ocean deposits; Waves, currents and tides;
    • Marine Resources: Biotic, mineral and energy resources; Coral reefs, coral bleaching; sea level changes; law of the sea and marine pollution.
  4. Biogeography:
    • Genesis of soils; Classification and distribution of soils; Soil profile; Soil erosion, Degradation and conservation; Factors influencing world distribution of plants and animals; Problems of deforestation and conservation measures; Social forestry; agro-forestry; Wild life; Major gene pool centres.


  1. Environmental Geography:
    • Principle of ecology; Human ecological adaptations; Influence of man on ecology and environment; Global and regional ecological changes and imbalances; Ecosystem their management and conservation; Environmental degradation, management and conservation; Biodiversity and sustainable development; Environmental policy; Environmental hazards and remedial measures; Environmental education and legislation.

Human Geography:

  1. Perspectives in Human Geography:
    • Areal differentiation; regional synthesis; Dichotomy and dualism; Environmentalism; Quantitative revolution and locational analysis; radical, behavioral, human and welfare approaches; Languages, religions and secularisation; Cultural regions of the world; Human development index.
  2. Economic Geography:
    • World Economic Development: measurement and problems; World resources and their distribution; Energy crisis; the limits to growth;
    • World Agriculture: Typology of agricultural regions; agricultural inputs and productivity; Food and nutrition problems; Food security;
    • Famine: Causes, effects and remedies;
    • World Industries: Locational patterns and problems; patterns of world trade.
  3. Population and Settlement Geography:
    • Growth and distribution of world population; demographic attributes; Causes and consequences of migration; concepts of over-under-and optimum population; Population theories, world population problems and policies, Social well-being and quality of life; Population as social capital. Types and patterns of rural settlements; Environmental issues in rural settlements; Hierarchy of urban settlements;
    • Urban Morphology: Concepts of primate city and rank-size rule; Functional classification of towns; Sphere of urban influence; Rural – urban fringe; Satellite towns; Problems and remedies of urbanization; Sustainable development of cities.
  4. Regional Planning:
    • Concept of a region; Types of regions and methods of regionalisation; Growth centres and growth poles; Regional imbalances; regional development strategies; environmental issues in regional planning; Planning for sustainable development.
  5. Models, Theories and Laws in Human Geography:
    • Systems analysis in Human geography; Malthusian, Marxian and demographic transition models; Central Place theories of Christaller and Losch; Perroux and Boudeville; Von Thunen’s model of agricultural location; Weber’s model of industrial location; Ostov’s model of stages of growth. Heartland and Rimland theories; Laws of international boundaries and frontiers.




  1. Physical Setting:
    • Space relationship of India with neighboring countries; Structure and relief; Drainage system and watersheds; Physiographic regions; Mechanism of Indian monsoons and rainfall patterns, Tropical cyclones and western disturbances; Floods and droughts; Climatic regions; Natural vegetation; Soil types and their distributions.
  2. Resources:
    • Land, surface and ground water, energy, minerals, biotic and marine resources; Forest and wild life resources and their conservation; Energy crisis.
  3. Agriculture:
    • Infrastructure: Irrigation, seeds, fertilizers, power;
    • Institutional Factors: Land holdings, land tenure and land reforms; Cropping pattern, agricultural productivity, agricultural intensity, crop combination, land capability; Agro and social forestry; Green revolution and its socioeconomic and ecological implications; Significance of dry farming; Livestock resources and white revolution; aqua – culture; sericulture, apiculture and poultry; agricultural regionalisation; agro-climatic zones; agro- ecological regions.
  4. Industry:
    • Evolution of industries; Locational factors of cotton, jute, textile, iron and steel, aluminum, fertilizer, paper, chemical and pharmaceutical, automobile, cottage and agro-based industries; Industrial houses and complexes including public sector undertakings; Industrial regionalisation; New industrial policies; Multinationals and liberalization; Special Economic Zones; Tourism including eco -tourism.
  5. Transport, Communication and Trade:
    • Road, railway, waterway, airway and pipeline networks and their complementary roles in regional development; Growing importance of ports on national and foreign trade; Trade balance; Trade Policy; Export processing zones; Developments in communication and information technology and their impacts on economy and society; Indian space programme.
  6. Cultural Setting:
    • Historical Perspective of Indian Society; Racial, linguistic and ethnic diversities; religious minorities; major tribes, tribal areas and their problems; cultural regions; Growth, distribution and density of population;
    • Demographic Attributes: Sex-ratio, age structure, literacy rate, work-force, dependency ratio, longevity; migration (inter-regional, intra- regional and international) and associated problems; Population problems and policies; Health indicators.


  1. Settlements:
    • Types, patterns and morphology of rural settlements; Urban development’s; Morphology of Indian cities; Functional classification of Indian cities; Conurbations and metropolitan regions; urban sprawl; Slums and associated problems; town planning; Problems of urbanization and remedies.
  2. Regional Development and Planning:
    • Experience of regional planning in India; Five Year Plans; Integrated rural development programmes; Panchayati Raj and decentralised planning; Command area development; Watershed management; Planning for backward area, desert, drought prone, hill, tribal area development; multi-level planning; Regional planning and development of island territories.
  3. Political Aspects:
    • Geographical basis of Indian federalism; State reorganisation; Emergence of new states; Regional consciousness and interstate issues; international boundary of India and related issues; Cross border terrorism; India’s role in world affairs; Geopolitics of South Asia and Indian Ocean realm.
  4. Contemporary Issues:
    • Ecological issues
    • Environmental hazards: landslides, earthquakes, Tsunamis, floods and droughts, epidemics; Issues relating to environmental pollution; Changes in patterns of land use; Principles of environmental impact assessment and environmental management; Population explosion and food security; Environmental degradation; Deforestation, desertification and soil erosion; Problems of agrarian and industrial unrest; Regional disparities in economic development; Concept of sustainable growth and development; Environmental awareness; Linkage of rivers; Globalisation and Indian economy.

UPSC Geography Optional Books

Booklist and Sources to refer:

Paper 1 is indeed time consuming and holds a huge scope for examiners to explore new areas and hence needs to be dealt in detail. The sections mentioned under this form the most fundamental avenue of the study.

Section A: Physical Geography

  1. Geomorphology:
  • Geomorphology – Savindra Singh
  • Physical Geography – Strahler and Strahler
  • Earth’s Dynamic Surface by K Siddhartha
  1. Climatology:
  • Physical Geography – Savindra Singh
  • Physical Geography – Strahler and Strahler
  • Atmosphere, Weather and Climate by K.Siddhartha
  • Geography through Maps by K.Siddhartha
  1. Oceanography:
  • Physical Geography – Savindra Singh
  • Oceanography – Sharma & Vatal
  1. Biogeography & Environment Geography:
  • Physical Geography – Savindra Singh
  • Biosphere by K.Siddhartha
  • Physical Geography made simple books
  • IGNOU Biogeography and ecology material
  • India Year Book – Publication division
  • Terra Green – ONGC’s magazine


SECTION B: Human Geography

  1. Perspective in development of Human Geography:
  • Perspective in Human Geography – Majid Hussain
  1. Economic Geography:
  • Economic and Social Geography – Rupa made Simple
  • Economic Geography – Leon & Morgan series
  1. Population and Settlement Geography
  • Economic and Social Geography – Rupa made Simple series
  • Geography of Population – R.C. Chandra
  • Perspective in Human Geography – Majid Hussain
  1. Regional Geography
  • Regional Planning – Chand & Puri
  • Planning Commission Report for 12th FYP (Selective reading)
  1. Models, theories and Laws in Human Geography
  • Economic and Social Geography – Rupa made Simple series

Paper 2 primarily is about applying geographical point of view to several things. It is important to regularly update yourself with current issues to attempt this part of optional.

Geography of India:

  • NCERT XI Physical geography/XII Std
  • Magazines – Yojana, kurukshetra, Geography and You, Terra Green
  • Newspaper – Hindu, Indian Express
  • Indian Geography by khullar
  • Latest developments from India Year Book
  • Economic Survey
  • Map book – Any Atlas



  • Basics: Start with the basics NCERT’s, complete the syllabus from the booklist mentioned above and then proceed to other sources. A strong foundation comes in extremely handy while approaching this optional. Stick to minimum number of books but ensure that it is revised regularly. It is also important to study with comprehension and proper understanding instead of rote learning.
  • Current Affairs: It is advised to maintain a separate notebook for geography current affairs and regularly update the notes and relate to it with a geographical point of view. Newspapers are a good source to collect current affairs related data and one can take inputs from an article and then supplement with any other static portion. This information cannot be found in one place or in a particular article. Hence one needs to dive deep into various dynamic sources and gather data. Hence there is a need to maintain current affairs notes topic wise and continuously update by adding further points.
  • Detailed Reading: UPSC is known for throwing bouncers and hence it is expected of an aspirant to not stick just to the syllabus and supplement with reading a little extra than that is required. Paper1 is generally time-consuming and examiners can explore new areas, hence a detailed thorough reading should be achieved.
  • Map Marking: It is advised to be well versed with India map and World map. Questions on these repeat every year and are pretty straightforward, thus making it easier to score. Diagrams need to be prepared especially for Paper1. Maps and diagrams for each sub topic can help in better presentation of answer thus fetching good marks.
  • Previous Year Papers: It is a must to look into previous year papers even before starting a chapter in order to understand the nature of questions and to understand what exactly UPSC expects from an aspirant.
  • Answer Writing Practice and taking up test series: The very essence of mains lies in answer writing practice and hence one need to practice as much as possible. Importance of test series is known to every other aspirant. It helps in improving writing speed and brings in clarity of concept. A few pros of taking up test series are good discussions, few bouncer questions and extensively researched articles/material on important topics.


As mentioned earlier, key to a good answer lies in comprehensiveness, conceptual clarity and visibility. Let’s look at few geography specific tips which help one frame good answers:

  • Structure of the answers plays a key role in framing good answers. Identify the keywords and structure the answer taking into account all important points, diagrams and maps. One can actually start by thinking of a map and place the points accordingly. E.g. For a question on Ocean Bottom relief of Atlantic Ocean, one can add Bottom relief map.
  • Try to present the answers in an appealing manner and at the same time, maintain an edge by introducing diagrams and maps as and when needed. It is better to draw the map on the first page of answer itself and build the answer around the details presented in the map. Redundant and unnecessary diagrams/maps are not awarded marks. So it is important that the representation must cater to the requirements of the question.
  • Geographic point of view can be displayed further in your answers by the inclusion of data facts, particularly in the Human geography portion, census figures should be remembered for demographic attributes.
  • Underline the key points but avoid overdoing it as it might draw unnecessary attention to the points which you wouldn’t want to highlight.
  • A word of caution for open ended questions where one needs to write answers as broad as possible covering a wide range of issues.

Geography as an optional requires both analytical and factual study where accuracy can be achieved only with revision and reasoning. Hence choose this optional only if you find this interesting.

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